Holmes goes out a winner in Morgan State’s home finale on Thursday

March 05, 2010 | Drew Forrester

Everyone who could squeeze their way into Hill Field House on Thursday night showed up to see “The Reggie Holmes Show”.   Yes, there was a basketball game between Morgan State and Coppin State, but that was almost an afterthought in comparison to the people who gathered to witness a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a hometown hero to bask in the glow of a public embrace.

And the senior guard from St. Frances High School delivered an evening of high-level basketball that will not soon be forgotten by anyone who had the privilege of watching it unfold in person.

You’ll notice the word privilege is underlined above.  And for good reason.  I was there last night — and from the moment I set foot in the building, I knew it was going to be a privilege to watch the Holmes coronation.

This one was so special, so wild and so much of a love-fest that upwards of 40 people streamed onto the court BEFORE the game during the ceremony to honor Holmes on “Senior Night”.  It’s one thing to rush the court AFTER your team wins a game.  It’s another to have fans leave their seats and run out to midcourt to embrace an outgoing player BEFORE the game.

It was a special sight to see and it moved Holmes to tears several times over.

As Glenn noted earlier today during the opening segment of The Comcast Morning Show, it was one of those rare instances in sports where you get the “hair stands up on your neck” moment without realizing it was happening until it already did.

And then they played basketball.  There was, after all, a game.

Ready for a shocker?  Holmes was the Man of the Hour…or, in hoops terms, “The 40-Minute Magician”.  He hit two 3-pointers right out of the gate and the crowd foamed at the mouth because they were all keenly aware that he needed 33 points in the game to pass Marvin Webster as the school’s all-time leading scorer.

Holmes knew too.  Afterwards, he met with the media and said it was “definitely on my mind” to try and do it at home in front of the faithful.

So he kept shooting.  And they kept going in.  There was a moment with 9 minutes gone in the game when he crossed-over a Coppin State defender, hit a 24-foot fade-away 3-pointer, and the stands shook as nearly everyone stood up and danced in their seats.

At one point in the first half, I looked up and noticed there were A LOT of empty seats in the building.  I knew the game was sold out…so I wondered where everyone went.  Then I realized what happened.  Hundreds of people left their seats and simply went courtside and stood there to watch the game.  It was as if they wanted to be as close as they could to Holmes on his special night.

Coppin State deserves credit, too, because they turned in a representative effort for most of the night.  Holmes worked hard for his first half points…the same way he’s worked hard in the classroom to keep a 3.0 average in four years at Morgan State.  The Eagles didn’t roll over and play the accomodating guest on Senior Night at Hill Field House and that made it all the more interesting to watch.  The game might not have mattered in the standings, both teams are what they are at this point — Morgan State is the MEAC leader and Coppin State is struggling through a rare off-year — but you sure wouldn’t have known that by watching the players do battle.

Predictably, Holmes won nearly every battle.  He had 19 of Morgan’s 33 first half points and came out firing in the 2nd half.  Much to Todd Bozeman’s credit, he seemingly has an uncanny knack for knowing WHEN to coach and strategize and when to let his players “do their own thing”.  Last night’s affair morphed into a mini-version of a schoolyard game in the second half, some due to Morgan’s bulging lead on the scoreboard and some due to the fact that the players on both teams wanted to entertain the sold out crowd.  And as the clock moved on and the net kept rippling, Holmes inched closer and closer to the scoring record.

Someone standing 10 feet behind me became the vocal, personal scorekeeper for Holmes and would remind Reggie where he stood nearly every time down the court.  “Six more to go shorty!” he would yell to #11.  Holmes would steal a glance over in that general direction, offer a wink, and keep on going.  Another three-pointer got him to 32 points, tying Webster’s career mark, and the shouts were even more direct and rabid as Holmes gathered up a loose ball near mid-court and settled into a play-run.  “Come on shorty, one more hoop!!” was the call from behind me.  Holmes again looked over and smiled.

And five steps later, it was over.  Reggie scooted in between a screen and tossed up a right handed shot – while being fouled – and the ball rattled softly around the rim before dropping in for career point #1991.  Holmes took a few steps away from the play, pounded his right fist on the small #4 on the Morgan State jersey to honor teammate and cancer-battling Anthony Anderson, and went to the foul line.  It was back to business that quickly.

Moments later, the announcement was made to the crowd – as if they didn’t know – and Todd Bozeman presented Holmes with the ball to commemorate the accomplishment.

Four years ago when Holmes showed up at Morgan State, one of the first things Bozeman said to him was, “You can wind up being the leading scorer in the history of the school if you work hard and keep getting better.”

A throw-away line to encourage an incoming player to give his best?  Maybe.  But not this time around.  Bozeman really believed that — and he made Holmes believe it too.  And last night after the game, the Baltimore product admitted it was on his mind throughout the four years.  But you wouldn’t have ever known it had you watched Holmes play in person throughout his career with the Bears.  He’s the ultimate team player, the selfless leader who doesn’t care if he scores 11, 21 or 31 as long as his team wins the game.  Perhaps the best compliment to Holmes came from Bozeman afterwards when he said, simply, “I think as highly of him as I would my own son.  He’s a 3.0 student, he’s a great man and has turned into one helluva basketball player.”

What Bozeman also saw last night was how much the community embraced his star player.  Joking about the pre-game on-court fan-rush, the coach said, “All of Cherry Hill was out there with him…making him cry.”  I’m sure the coach had to brush away a tear or two as well, having seen the maturation process in high-definition from 2006-2010.  It’s one thing for a kid to come in and help your basketball team.  It’s another thing for a kid to come in, grow up in front of you, and put your entire basketball program on his back.

That’s what Reggie Holmes did for Todd Bozeman.

And last night, on HIS night, Holmes delivered the ultimate “thank you” to the 4,550 who jammed their way into the building to watch his final home game.  It was no different than a mid-January game against any other MEAC opponent.  He ran the floor, passed the ball, shot the ball and did all the things he’s been doing for four years.

And his team won the game.

Reggie Holmes is a winner.

That’s the ultimate compliment ANY player can get.

And Holmes is not only a winner on the court, he’s a winner as a man.  He’s a winner for Baltimore.

It was a great night to be at Hill Field House.

It was, in fact, a privilege to see Reggie Holmes go out the right way.  He went out on top.